Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mongolia: Illegal hunting wiping out snow leopards, other mammals

LONDON - Illegal hunting and trade is pushing some Mongolian animals like the snow leopard to the brink of extinction, conservationists warned on Tuesday.

The saiga antelope, wild camel, and Gobi bear are also highly threatened, along with other mammals and 11 species of fish, according to the first comprehensive Red List for Mongolian mammals.

There are fewer than 50 Gobi bears, only about 460 wild camels and an estimated 1,000 snow leopard left in the landlocked country between Russia and China where half the 2.8 million people are nomadic herders.

"We knew there were some major declines but this confirms across the board, especially for the large mammals, that there have been unprecedented declines due to international trade in species," said Dr Jonathan Baillie, of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) which compiled the report.

Most of the population declines date back to the early 1990s when the nation shifted to a free market economy after the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, there was a breakdown in mechanisms that regulated trade and protected wildlife.

The red deer has declined in the last 18 years by 92 percent and the number of marmots, which are large rodents, has dropped by more than 75 percent in the past 12 months because of hunting.

"The steppe is basically being cleared of a lot of these mammals," Baillie added.

Traditionally, Mongolia has been a refuge for central Asian animals that have been hunted out of other areas. They managed to maintain their numbers in Mongolia because of the low population density. But because of increases in trade, species that found a refuge in Mongolia are quickly losing ground.

"Imagine the Serengeti just being cleared and no one paying attention. Basically that is what is happening in Mongolia," Baillie added, referring to the national park in Tanzania.

The trouble has been exacerbated by an increase in the availability of vehicles and cars. Trophy hunting is a particularly big threat to Mongolia's large mammals such as antelope, deer and gazelle, according to the report launched at the ZSL.

Baillie said legislation is needed to protect the nations' endangered mammals, as well as support to ensure it is enforced. Unlike other areas where loss of habitat has led to declines in species, the greatest threat in Mongolia is hunting.

"It is a unique situation where you have such a clear threat and it is happening so quickly over such a short period of time," he added.

Story by Patricia Reaney
Story Date: 12/12/2006 39432/story.htm

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